Drawing a Truer Picture of Carbon Emissions

In 2011 the United Kingdom pledged to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 50 percent by the year 2025, the most ambitious target by any industrialized country. Due to an increase in coal-generated power, the UK saw a 3.5 percent increase in CO2 emissions in 2012. This slight increase, however, is a blip on an otherwise impressive downward trend, with approximately a 20 percent decrease since 1990. Or is it? A new animation, “Carbon Omissions” by Leo Murray, makes it clear that humans have a bad tendency to shift blame for awkward happenings–like the proverbial dog’s fart.

While official measurements reveal that the UK’s domestic production of CO2 has dramatically decreased, the country is the second highest global importer of embodied emissions. Because much of the UK’s industry has migrated to cheaper countries, in-state production has decreased, but consumption has not. Instead, the UK simply imports goods from developing nations. When taking such imports into account, the UK has actually increased its emissions by 10 percent in the past two decades.

Carbon Omissions from Leo Murray on Vimeo.

Though China recently surpassed the United States as the largest carbon emitter in the world, it does so in a globalized society obsessed with cheap goods and labor, both of which China willingly supplies. Indeed, a 2008 study demonstrated that up to a third of China’s CO2 emissions were a result of exports to other countries. There is no doubt that China and other developing nations like India and Brazil have drastically increased global carbon emissions. However, measuring emissions purely based on domestic production neglects the reality of a global economy. For example, while Brazilian consumption is responsible for much of the Amazon’s deforestation, exports are responsible for an increasing percentage. It is both unfair and irresponsible for the Western world to point its fingers at the very countries it has outsourced much of its industry to. Though India and Brazil, and certainly China, need to mitigate their own emissions, they will continue to find it challenging to do so as the rest of the world clamors for their cheap labor. Consumers fart and the Chinese get the blame.

A clever portrayal of what happens when adding imported goods into the UK's emissions (Leo Murray)

A clever portrayal of what happens when adding imported goods into the UK’s emissions (Leo Murray)

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